Aphelion: Chapter 9 – 11

We conclude Episode 2: Welcome to Horizon’s Crown.

At the tender age of fifteen-and-something Varrett had given in to peer-pressured curiosity and bought what he’d assumed to be a flake of dragon scale.

He’d squeaked his way through the purchase with the elegance of a freaked out teen, and then he’d carried the thin, red chip in its tiny tin for weeks before he’d finally worked up enough rebellious courage to lock himself into his room onboard the Dream of Neverland. She’d been moored at an orbital island above Yaer’Ard right then, her navigation and communications systems in pieces after a rough ride through the Well. Repairs had been slow. Money tight. And he’d been too young to care about any of it.

He’d dimmed his room’s lights to the point of them being useless, had laid back on his bunk, and plopped the flake on the tip of his tongue. Then he’d waited. And waited. And waited, the Neverland quietly cycling through her routines beyond the cabin bulkheads.

Dragon flakes were meant to crack your eyes open, to let you see through those mortal trappings blinding you so you could spy on people’s souls. Including your very own. That’s what it said on the tin, anyway. Literally.

Well. That’d been a load of bull, hadn’t it?

When the dragon scale had finally hit him (hard), it’d been shit. He’d hallucinated for hours, had seen the Neverland’s walls turn liquid and threaten to drown him, and watched in helpless horror as squirming tendrils made from molten iron had tried to squeeze the life out of him.

But it’d all just been in his head. The hallucinations had sat on the surface, a trip hardly any worse than his first horror VR flick experience, with the exception that he hadn’t been able to unplug. Fucked up as the shit he’d seen had been, he’d known it hadn’t been real, even if it had done its very best pretending.

This? This shit right now?

It was worse. Oh, it was so much worse.

Read Aphelion on Ao3
Explore Aphelion on Campfire

How to get into the Dying Light 2 Dev Room

I made a home video for a mutual over on Tumblr about how to get into the Dev Room in Villedor.

Your climb begins on the first floor of the basement in the VNC Tower and with a lengthy wait for an elevator.

Please don’t forget to a) do little whoops and screeches as you dangle from the grappling hook and b) open the fridge and c) sit down everywhere and d) generally turn the place upside down. Plus, listen to Horizon.

Why Dying Light 2’s “romances” don’t work (for me).

Or: How to skeeve out Taff, an ace’s take.

Alright, let’s start off with: I love me some love, okay? I write it. Plus, I gravitate towards games that offer me romance options like I’m a touch starved kitten. Cyberpunk 2077. Divinity Orignal Sin 2. Mass Effect. Dragon Age. Jade Empire. Knights of the Old Republic. Any BioWare game, really. Even as I type this, I remember just how stoked I am for Baldur’s Gate 3 and how I’m still hyped for the Axe DLC in Boyfriend Dungeon, because I need me that Axe. He’s the Sweetest.

So, yeh. I may be ace, but I do love me some videogame love.

But Dying Light 2’s “romance” skeeves me out to the point of making me want to take off my headphones, and we don’t even, you know, seal any deals. And still a bunch of those scenes have me feel such deep-seated discomfort that I want to get up and walk away. Or chuck the character who has caused me said discomfort off the nearest roof.

What’s the issue, Taff, you may ask. Consent is what.

Note the generous use of the word options when I mentioned my adoration for games letting me (or whatever character I am currently playing) get romantically involved. And consent isn’t only important once the clothes are about to come off. Nuh-huh. It starts with how other characters interact with me. Or, in this particular case, with Aiden.

Allow me to explain with a bunch of examples.

Lawan Dying Light Stay Human

We meet Lawan and, upon reaching the Lookout to watch the lights come on, she hugs Aiden. My immediate reaction was to squeak ‘Please, don’t. Get off,’ because you’ve got no right to get into my personal space like that. That was where my dislike for her properly started, but not where it ended, because things just get worse. Throughout the rest of the game, I have to sit through Aiden whinging into the radio after her, stand witness to more uncomfortable physical attention, and not once get the option to say Stop. There’s no ‘no, I do not consent to this cheek kiss, get the heck off me’, but only more of the same.

Thalia Dying Light Stay Human

And then there’s Thalia. Heck. We engage in a wee bit of well-mannered small-talk with her and hoo-boy, next thing we know she confesses her arousal (*distressed Taff screeches are audible in the distance*) and we’re locked into being receptive to the whole thing because she sure as hell ain’t quitting and Aiden’s responses (while somewhat non-committal up to a point) do not allow us to set boundaries. And oh dear lord did I want to set boundaries. Desperately. Without being an absolute ass, preferably.

I’m thinking… maybe the first person mode makes it worse. Though then again you’ve got Cyberpunk 2077 where I had no issue with it at all since I was in full control at all times and able to say no. Like telling Panam she’s getting a bit too familiar when she puts her legs up on V’s lap. That, that, is choice and that is setting boundaries. Without being a jackass, too.

Which, funnily enough, is why I find Hakon so much more pleasant to be around than Lawan.

Hakon Dying Light Stay Human

Boundaries are set. Casually. Playfully. And that’s the sort of boundaries that, once set, I am more than willing to dismantle if only someone would give me the choice.

But Lawan and Thalia? No boundaries. No choice. No, thank you.

TLDR: Consent is Good.

Aphelion Lore: The Ein and their Einlings

Today, I would like to bring you some Aphelion creature lore! In particular, I’d like to introduce the Ein and their Einlings, a Reaper sub-species that inhabits Aphelion’s verse.

Check them out here or have a look over on Campfire Explore.

Art by the always amazing and gifted @nikoschrissis.

Ein are creatures the size of a donkey.

They are slow and sluggish and will mind their own business as they wander, almost as if the world around them isn’t of any consequence, to the point where there’s a good chance you’ll see one walking into a wall – only to do it again, hoping the wall had moved.

And that is how they spend their lives. Passive. Quiet. Noses to the ground, grazing.

And a back full of Einlings.

They host up to twenty of those small, exceptionally active and playful creatures and carry them to wherever they need to be. Which, usually, means buildings. The small Einlings fit perfectly into the inner workings of structures both old and new alike, where they repair anything from wiring to more complex machinery. To achieve that task they often hoard wire and scrap to bring back to their Ein for keeping and to reuse later. Which often ends with their Ein covered in wires and electric scrap braided into its fur like makeshift armour.

Incidentally, Einlings are also known as mischievous thieves, picking up anything small that isn’t nailed down and even remotely useful (or just shiny enough).

Einlings do not fare well without their Ein and their flock. While it is possible to keep them separate, an Einling without its group is always at risk of falling into inertia.

Ein and Einglings are relatively common in the settled systems, even beyond Trero’s reach. A hatchery exists somewhere within reach and dragons will deliver new flocks on occasion.

Art by the always amazing and gifted @nikoschrissis.

Appearance

Ein look like a wide-backed cross between a donkey and a sheep. They have floppy ears, stubby tails, and cloven hooves. A coat of long, curled wool covers them from head to hoof and a layer of feathers spreads across their back.

Unfortunately, the wool can grow so unruly it often covers their eyes. Fortunately, they have their Einlings to pull the wool back or trim it.

Einlings, on the other hand, come in all manners of variations, though here’s what they all have in common: They’re small. Lithe. Have bodies that resemble squirrels or ferrets, and nimble, three-fingered hands with opposable thumbs. Some have wings allowing them short flight and others strong tails that grow out a meter long (which is a few times the actual Einling’s size). And then there are those that have very large, wide ears and those that have antlers – and some that have all of the above combined.

Their bodies are covered in short, soft fur coming in browns and blacks and whites and some have feathers. But not all.

Einlings also have a peculiar set of teeth: Half their mouth is equipped with small, sharp teeth and the back where there might be molars are instead flat, sharp cutters they use to cut through wires.

Art by the always amazing and gifted @nikoschrissis.

Symbolism

Einlings represent childish joy. Their likeness is often turned into good luck charms and frequently adorn children’s bedrooms.

In turn, Ein are often associated with parenting and providing. Orphanages tend to feature them in one way or the other.

Art by the always amazing and gifted @nikoschrissis.
Read Aphelion on Ao3
Explore Aphelion on Campfire

Things I Love about Dying Light 2: Stay Human

Is this a Taff Squees? Yeah, probably. See, I have been doing very little next to playing Dying Light 2, plotting my Latchkey Hero sequel, making gifs, and, you know, generally being preoccupied with the Dying Light franchise as a whole. So I’ve decided to whip up a little post about it. Or, rather, recycle one that has already made the rounds on Tumblr previously.

The parkour mechanics, top to bottom.

Who’d have thought that the parkour in the parkour game would be so good, huh? I’d already had (and am still having) immense fun traversing the Harran rooftops with Crane, but taking to the much more vertical Villedor armed with a boatload of new moves and tools is something else.

Let’s make a wee list of what I love about it most:

  • How the music builds as you hit your stride; and how it varies depending on the situation, the time of day, and where you are.
  • How that same music stretches when you leap far, giving you the impression that the whole world is holding its breath for when you land.
  • How Aiden gets so damn excited over getting things right. I’d always loved it when Kyle gets giddy after landing in some trashbags, so I’m delighted they’ve leaned into this a lot more for Dying Light 2. It’s catching. Aiden ought to congratulate himself more, he’s doing great.
  • How smoothly you can chain all the moves. From leaping off the edge of the roof, to gliding across to another buildng and rolling into a window, or, you know, kicking someone in the face. The possibilities sometimes feel endless.

The stealth

Have you seen my screen name? And if you have, do you know where I got it? I got it from Thief and Thief The Metal Age. My First Love. My Forever Favourite. I love stealth. Stealth is my Thingt, so when I say it pained me that Dying Light had pretty poor stealth I mean it. The game was otherwise perfect and the lack of refined stealth mechanics was something I often lamented when playing, and I am pretty sure I ranted about it to friends, too.

Then Dying Light: Stay Human happened. Help, I’m in Love. It’s unfair with how this goes straight for my heart.

Dying Light 2 is my Near Perfect Game. It included the last thing that was missing from Dying Light. And yeah I say Near, cause it’s not got Crane, but that’s an entirely different topic and not one for this particular blog post. So. Uh! Stealth!

When I noticed that stealth was a viable option, I near lost it. And it is! Viable! Very! I can steal my way through the night and I can work on clearing a bandit camp without anyone ever seeing me coming and I get to walk away feeling a wee bit accomplished after. Plus, how human enemy NPCs react to you leaving the flashlight on? Perfect. Yes, forgetting to turn it off was a dumbass move, thank you for reminding me. I will now proceed to beat you senseless with it (I mean, not really, but wouldn’t it be neat if I could?) and steal your socks.

The ability to play without a HUD because you get feedback for everything without it

I already loved that in Dying Light. You always knew when Crane needed a bandaid based on how he reacted to getting clipped. Aiden is a bit more expressive than Kyle in that regard, especially as he gets pummelled, which makes it even easier. But there’s more to it. So much more. Dying Light 2 is very immersive if you let it.

Case in point: I have never seen my stamina meter. I don’t need to. Much like I don’t need the immunity timer to tell me when I need to eat a mushroom, lest I crave succulent thigh, because the biomarker will beep and Aiden will get worked up over it when it gets hairy.

I do wish though I could look at a wristwatch and the biomarker whenever I wanted. Being able to stick out Crane’s arm to check what time it was? Used that often. Would love to use it again.

And you know what you get when you play without a HUD? Gorgeous, gorgeous vistas all day every day, without anything distracting you. Plus, the VNC Tower climb without a HUD? Hnnnngh. More, please.

If I have got a gripe, then it’s how I cannot turn off the entire HUD in the game itself (like you can in Dying Light). Currently, I gotta rely on a combination of deleting the individual HUD components and a camera mod, which is perfectly doable but also, like, a wee bit of effort.

Everything about stamina running out

My favourite game difficulty in Dying Light is Nightmare. Why? Because Crane runs out of steam and I got to be a bit more careful about what I do with the energy he’s got. As such, I’m very glad that stamina is a much more valuable resource in any of Dying Light 2’s difficulties.

Even better yet, I’m a big fan of what running out of stamina does. Yeah, you can’t swing your weapon anymore, true. But you can still shove them bitches. And Aiden thumping on his ass when you try and dodge without stamina has got to be one of the best decisions any game developer has ever made.

Using the Environment

Okay, so, before I start to get all excited about this: Where are my buckets, Techland? Hm? Hmmm? You teased them buckets and then only gave me spears, bottles, and bricks.

Visual proof of Bucket Teasing

Anyway, I love throwing things. And I enjoy grabbing ledges and kicking mooks in the teeth and shoving someone into a fire because I have otherwise run out of steam. Mmm, crispy mook. What’s not to like?

Bonus Spear Action. Aiden has one hell of a throwing arm.

Expanded Night gameplay

Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me a reason to be out at night that extends past a bunch of nighttime missions. Because the night is gorgeous and spooky and exciting in Dying Light 2. Though have you noticed how there’s always a full moon? Villedor and Night City have that in common and, honestly, it’s no longer a surprise both cities are a wee bit fucked.

Volatiles are scary again

Okay, I admit this one might just be me not allowing Aiden more health and a healthy dose of self-imposed dread, but I did feel like Volatiles in Dying Light 2 have more bite than they did in the original.

:3

Yes, the game is gorgeous

The game is visually stunning and an absolute joy to listen to. From the pitter-patter of raindrops hitting your paraglider to the night singing its creepy songs and the score playing as you move; it all fits together beautifully. Though I am not gonna lie, I do miss Dying Light’s atmospheric music, while at the same time understanding why they decided to focus on more situational scores which rely on your momentum. ‘Cause it works. It really does.

I want more

I’ve played the game for more than 120 hours, haven’t even seen everything yet, and I already want more. In particular, I want to see more of the world. More of Villedor. Like that castle sitting atop a tall hill lording over the city. I want to go there. And a game making me want to see more is a game that has my attention and is likely to hold it for a very, very long time.